Utah Rocks by Lisa Cyr | Flickr
I began the sculpture with little in mind, trying to focus but incapable of true articulation. I always arrived at the lab exhausted by daily cares, only wishing to lose myself in my gestures, thinking possibly of nothing. That would work, in this particular case, as the instructor had requested a cluster of primary shapes inspired by a common theme. I could let my hands go, unworried of a final design that I would figure later. I started patting blocks of clay into spheres, halving them for easier handling. I smoothed, then reassembled them two by two.
I was thinking of rocks. Stone formations that I knew from my childhood—huge calcareous concretions, large boulders with a moonlike feel. By association, I recalled the mighty profiles of cactuses crowding those same mesas and plains, neatly matching the harshness of the granite terrain. My young eyes had long wandered over such lunar forms, greens and greys cut against too cloudless blue skies, burned out by a triumphant sunlight. I had loved them as kids love the first things they discover, explore, recognize—beyond limits, I mean. For me cactuses were creatures of power and grace, which I worshipped.
Almost dreaming, I began to shape cylindrical forms, rolling clay around pieces of bamboo canes. Then, without much pondering, I topped them with tiny lids, rounded and delicately coiled. Finally I remembered the wind, fiercely and stupendously battling with the plants, bending them but not breaking them. Entire groves could be dramatically inclined, stretched at an expressionistic degree of unbalance, quite surreal in fashion. Once I mounted my cactuses on rocks, I twisted the entire structure, arching it as if an ocean breeze had just swept it, pushing it to the verge of cracking or flying. I was struck by the energy my piece embodied, then blew—so to speak—in my face.
Then I saw it. The obvious, I mean. Yes, the forest of penises, life size, duly attached to their equally proportioned testicles, terminated by accurately portrayed glans with their little duct opening at the top (I had left it for air to circulate as required). The erection of all these organs, not entirely stiff, was just about natural—besides beautiful... But that wasn’t the point. Luckily I hadn’t painted them in any kind of skin tone and I didn’t plan to. Well, it wasn’t needed.
I confess, though I normally stand by my artistic choices (risky, dumb, uncomfortable as they may be), I chickened out. Something in me reacted viscerally, childishly. In less than a second I guessed the whole run of comments, laughs, smiles, jokes that would doubtlessly ensue while my sculpture, displayed on the shelf, would pass through stages of firing, glazing, enameling, witnessed by the entire pottery lab. It was a college facility, filled with crowds of young students—jocularity would be uncontrolled, I feared. What refrained me from smashing the thing into bits and forget about it was…
I had spent weeks on it. Laborious, fine building. Lots of love, in a moment when time was a luxury and so was love. A huge, magnificent piece—a miracle of intricate balance in its bold precariousness. Still I spent the night pondering pros and cons. At dawn I was in the lab, ready to call it quits.
I didn’t. No one was there yet. In the silence hesitation assailed me. I had no clue about which holes my unconscious had found in my otherwise vigilant ego. My naivety made me mad at myself. Not too badly—after all many natural things have phallic appearances, almost fifty per cent. My inspiration, unfortunately, had spilled over the edge in a public place rather than in the privacy of a studio. I was worried about other people. Ashamed. I did not want to be the author of a porno trophy. I was not young and beautiful. For a gal on her falling curve, some statements are frankly pathetic. Still the devil took hold of my hand—in a corner, turning my back to the room, I perfected and polished my masterpiece. Did I mean blocking it from sight, shielding it with my body? It was way too big to go unnoticed.
Those who saw it were amazed by the overall shape, quite impactful. They broke into admiring whistles, then came closer and said something vague: “It looks like a submarine creature, a tentacular monster, it looks…” Finally a colleague mouthed: “I know what it truly looks like, but I won’t tell.” “I know it too,” I added as neutrally as I could.
Then a fellow stopped by, a smile on his face. He exclaimed: “This is gorgeous, luscious, triumphant! Whatever it is, it is awesome.” I smiled in response. Something loosened up in my chest, his enthusiasm mending my anxiety. “Maybe,” I thought, “someone will not find this obscene or ridiculous, but exhilarating instead.” “This is sexy and powerful,” said the lab director, spreading balm on my bruise. He suggested a complex coloring process I had never tried. He asked me to do smaller samples before finishing the piece, in order to test results. I agreed, though it would mean automatically multiplying outputs and the singles—alas—would look more unequivocal. Once again I should stay away from skin tones. I asked myself, as an afterthought, if there was a slight malice in the copying request… But I did the samples—tinted, fired, compared them. They proliferated on shelves, these fruits of my imagination. I got used to their presence, still I came at odd hours. I made myself invisible.
Then one night I took a walk in the neighborhood, not too far from the pottery lab. Not too close either. My mind was elsewhere. A young man I had never seen stopped me. He looked at me intensely and said: “Is it you who did all those dicks in a bunch of colors?” He must have been a student—of course—perusing the lab, but in hours others than mine because I had never met him. Lost in my thoughts as I was I didn’t realize it, and the question struck me as if asked by a perfect stranger, as if the nasty tale of my daring had taken a life of its own. With no time for bracing myself I said, “yes,” as if he had just inquired, “are you the red-haired boy’s mom?” His face lightened up. He smiled broadly: “Woman! They are sick!” I knew he was paying me a compliment.
I received it in full. I guess fame kissed me for the first time with that chance encounter. With that passerby unable to ignore my celebrity, urged to honor this plain jane who had fashioned sick and colorful dicks by the dozen, then left them in display. I was the girl. I felt glorious.
Toti O'Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has recently appeared in Pethricor, Bridge Eight, Little Somethings, and Metafore.